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Whipple Library

Department of History and Philosophy of Science

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Curiosities of light and sight, by Shelford Bidwell
London : Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Limited, 1899


Physicist Shelford Bidwell (1848-1909) worked with particular success in the fields of electricity and magnetism as well as vision, and became known as a skilled writer and lecturer. According to the Preface, Bidwell enlarged his notes from a number of lectures to form this book, “re-modelled to a larger public.”

The issue of sight was by this time at the centre of debates over the true nature of colour and Bidwell discusses the findings of his colleague Arthur König (1856-1901), a German scientist and protégé of Helmholtz, who specialised in the study of colour blindness. He wrote that “the question as to what are the true fundamental colour-sensations, if such really exist at all, cannot yet be regarded as finally settled.”

Bidwell was among the first to envision a potential system for “telephotography,” a means of transmitting images electronically for remote viewing. These ideas would eventually evolve into the first plans for television.